This is our second week of a series we are calling, “More than All Others.” In the reading from Mark, Jesus speaking about a poor widow who gave only two coins to the treasury, said she gave more than all others. It is a great honor and respect from Jesus and it is the approach we should have in all we do for the kingdom of God. It is not an approach to a competition for the Kingdom of God, it is merely a goal for each of us.Jesus speaking about a poor widow who gave only two coins to the treasury, said she gave more than all others. It is a great honor and respect from Jesus and it is the approach we should have in all we do for the kingdom of God. Click To Tweet
In this first week we looked at love. How do we love? This is the command of Jesus when asked which commandment is first. Jesus replies you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength and love your neighbor as yourself. We looked at how it is possible to love each other more than all others and how it is possible for God to love us more than all others.
This week we look at the readings with an eye toward giving. We see stories of widows, who had nothing giving all they have because of their faith. Widows were very dependent on some male member of their husband’s family or even their own son to be able to survive. Some Rabbis shared a biblical view that a woman only has two proper roles, an unmarried virgin in her father’s house, or a child producing wife in her husband’s or her husbands’ family’s home. God uses widow’s as witness in the readings in Kings and Mark to teach us how to give.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary time; the readings are; 1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalms 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; Hebrews 9:24-28 and Mark 12:38-44. Each of these readings gives witness to love and how we are meant to love. First we will look at each reading and then we will take a look at what it means to love more than all others.
In the reading from Kings we hear the story of the prophet Elijah having proclaimed a drought in an area of the Northern Kingdom of Israel instructed by God to go stay with a widow who God has commanded to feed him. She has very little and in fact was making the last bread from the little flour and oil she had left when Elijah arrived and asked for something to eat. Elijah stayed with her for more than three years and the flour jar and oil jug never went empty. It took great faith for the widow to give Elijah something to eat as she was taking the food from her and her son’s mouth. But her faith is rewarded as the entire household is satisfied for the entire time of the drought, a time when many others suffered. This is an example of the type of giving Jesus remarks upon, this widow certainly gave more than all others as she gave her last for another.
Each year on the Day of Atonement a high priest selected from the priests of the temple would enter the sanctuary and offer an animal blood sacrifice for the cleansing of the people’s sins. Then a scapegoat would be led into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people to be at the mercy of God. The reading from Hebrews tells of a new High Priest, who enters the sanctuary for the cleansing of our sin, but does not enter annually he only has to enter once because the sacrifice he offered was his own blood. The sanctuary he enters is not one of human creation but the heavenly sanctuary. Once he has appeared as a sacrifice he will return a second time to judge and bring salvation to those who are eagerly awaiting Him. As judge he will first look at us as a follower for where we are to spend eternity and then he will determine our reward based on how we lived, this is when a life living more than all others will come in handy. There is a reward for those who have given and sacrifice for others in life. This reward is determined by Christ and we can expect the criteria he will use will be how we lived more for others than ourselves.
In the reading from Mark Jesus is teaching the crowds and warns them not to be like the scribes, who have taken a place of honor, they dress for show and yet they are harsh on widows. Jesus says they will receive “severe condemnation.” After his teaching Jesus points to a widow who put two small coins in the treasury telling his disciples she has given “more than all others.” The others give from their surplus, but she has given from her poverty, she has given all she has to live. This widow trust God alone for her desires and needs. Meanwhile the rich depend on themselves. They contribute more sums than the widow but they do not put themselves in a position where they will become poor and require God’s help. This message from Jesus indicates that he looks to the heart for contribution not to the size of the gift. Jesus sees the widow as heroic giving more than all the others, who gave more money but have less faith. This message is powerful for two reason, first the widow gives all she has because of her faith and second Jesus elevates the widow in the story, she is held in a place of honor by the Son of God. The widow is dependent on others for life, either her own children or the family members of her deceased husband. Widows are looked at more as a burden to society than a contributor, and yet Jesus points to her above all others.
In the readings we see two widows who give all they have for God. They give even to the point of risking their own lives. And we have the story of a High Priest who gave his life for all others. God sees giving not in what is received as useful tender, but God sees giving as a means of sacrifice for our brother or sister. Devotion to God is best authenticated and demonstrated through our love for others. The one who gives all they have for the other is someone God sees as giving more than all others.Devotion to God is best authenticated and demonstrated through our love for others. The one who gives all they have for the other is someone God sees as giving more than all others. Click To Tweet
Early in the Hebrew Scriptures the idea of tithing was introduced, the first mention was Abraham returning from battle giving a tenth of everything to Melchizedek, king of Salem who blessed Abraham and God Most High who delivered their foes into Abraham’s hands. Tithing is mentioned in other scriptural references. Extensive regulations about tithing are discussed in Deuteronomy. Tithing early on was in the form of resources; grain, wine, oil and first offspring of herds and flocks. Always the tithe came from the first tenth of the year’s harvest. In the first regulations on tithing the people would consume the tithe as a sacrificial meal, but eventually regulations indicated to bring the tithe to Jerusalem, to the temple and the priest who had no resources to tithe. The tithe was seen as giving back to God for the abundance God provided the people.The tithe was seen as giving back to God for the abundance God provided the people. Click To Tweet
Jesus doesn’t have much to say on tithing; he rebukes the Pharisees for their meticulous tithing on the one hand but neglecting other aspects of the law like justice, mercy and the love of God (Luke 11:42) on the other. Jesus teaching on giving is seen in the story of the rich young man who wants to follow Jesus and is told to sell everything he has to give to the poor. He, ends up walking away because he has so much (Luke 18:22). However, in the founding of the church the teachings on tithing are carried over, and in many cases thought of as a minimal standard of giving for Christians. Again the tithe is meant to come from the first tenth of what is obtained or earned, always giving to God first in thanksgiving for all God has given. Many preachers today will say if you give the first tenth to God, God will return it one-hundred fold. Thus tithing is still taught as a means of giving to God, usually in the form of an offertory at church services, much like the widow in our story form Mark.
In the reading with the widow giving all she had, a one-tenth tithe would seem more in line with the contribution given by the others in the story who gave from their surplus wealth. Jesus does not criticize them or indicate they are doing anything wrong, but he does raise up the widow who contributed all she had. In today’s culture we live for ourselves first, we fill our refrigerators, work for roof over our head, ensuring we have what we need to work and live a comfortable life. Even if we give our first ten percent to for God, ninety percent still kept for our own use. We have become comfortable and believe that giving ten percent is generous. We are made to believe we should take care of ourselves first, this is what culture tells us. This however is not how we are to become more than all others in the eyes of Jesus.
In the United States we often ask, “God bless America.” In the world if you have an income of thirty-three-thousand dollars annually or more you are in the top one percent of wealthiest wage earners. The average medium income of every household in the United States is in that top one percent of wage earners. Millions of people in the world consider every American rich. We are less than six percent of the world’s population yet we use forty percent of the world’s resources. Over one billion people in the world do not have drinkable water. Eight hundred million people won’t eat today with three hundred million of them being children. Over a billion people in the world live on less than one dollar a day. We keep more money in jars around our house and car ash trays than more than a billion people in the world have to live on. Certainly, God has blessed America.In the world if you have an income of thirty-three-thousand dollars annually or more you are in the top one percent of wealthiest wage earners. The average medium income of every household in the United States is in that top one… Click To Tweet
We are better off than many others because of where we were born, who our parents are, the neighborhood we grew up in and the opportunities we have to work, which is not anything we chose. We are much better off than we think, but we don’t think so because we get stuck in a comparison trap. We see others on social media and they are traveling more, buying more and they seem happier than us. It seems the more we have the more we worry about what we have. More importantly the more that comes our way the more we are inclined to put out trust in our riches, rather than the one who richly provides. Generally poor people are more generous than rich because they know if I don’t do for you you won’t do for me and they are always dependent on help. While wealthy people worry about their wealth; what if it is lost, what if it is not enough, what if a tragedy happens. But it is not what comes in that is the issue, it is how much we hang on to what comes in. How much of the resources we receive never gets used by anyone because we are holding if for a rainy day. Most of us run out of time before we run out of resoures.
We live thinking if the resource comes my way, it is mine to use and do as I wish. But God has called us to be stewards of resources. Jesus tells a story of a man going on a journey giving talents to three different people (Mathew 25:14-30). When the man returns he congratulates the two men that used their talents to obtain more and criticizes the man who does nothing with his talents. Jesus expects us to use our resources for the Kingdom of God. In the story the talents never transferred ownership from the Master to the stewards, we must always consider ourselves stewards over the resources God has given or we can expect to have the resources taken and unavailable for our use.We live thinking if the resource comes my way, it is mine to use and do as I wish. But God has called us to be stewards of resources. Click To Tweet
More than all others
There is nothing against obtaining riches, if God blesses us with riches we should be thankful. But how do we give? Do we consider the ten percent tithe enough for those in need? Do we even give a tithe? Is ten percent truly giving more than all others as Jesus says about the poor widow? It is not what we have but how we give that is considered in judgement by Jesus. Jesus in a rare glimpse of being impressed by another is impressed by the widow who gave all she had to God. She lived a life of poverty but trusts in God to take care of her. The widow who fed Elijah was giving her life for him to survive. She too trusted in God for everything and was rewarded. Our High Priest trusted giving his life as a sacrifice for many and God rewards him by making him High Priest and giving him a seat to the right of the throne. Each of these examples are of people who gave all the resources they had to serve God and in so doing are exemplified as the type of people we are called to imitate. In Psalm 146 which is read this week, we hear God provides; giving food to the hungry, setting captives free, giving sight to the blind, raising those down low, protecting strangers, sustaining widows. God will reign forever through all generations securing justice. If God gives generously to us, then we should give generously to keep God’s promise to those in need.If God gives generously to us, then we should give generously to keep God's promise to those in need. Click To Tweet
The decision about what and how much to give is a decision each of us must make on our own. How much we give or how much we hold is truly not the most important part of the decision. What is important is that we give with a heart of love. Our heart must be open and trusting of God. We must be more dependent on God than on the riches we think we deserve. We must give all we can so that Jesus looks to us and says we gave more than all others.